English Language Learners or ELL students are an often overlooked population in Indianapolis schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019 there were 67,504 ELL students enrolled in k-12 public schools in Indiana. Unfortunately, the supply of ELL educators lags far behind the demand from ELL students. One educator, Carlota Holder, is working to equip ELL educators with the proper knowledge and skills to best serve Indianapolis’ ELL student population. Carlota Holder serves as the Director of Academic Language for the Neighborhood Charter Network where she advocates for equitable access to language resources and leading best practices for ELL educators.
Born in Batesville, IN to a Panamanian mother and German father, language has been an important part of Carlota’s life for as long as she can remember. With Spanish as her first language, as a child, she was the first non-English speaker at her elementary school in Batesville. Here, she had first-hand experience with how challenging learning can be with the added barriers of language and inadequate learning resources. Eventually, through social pressure, Carlota was forced to learn English in order to engage with her peers in her rural small town community.
As her family took frequent trips to Panama over the years, her attentiveness to language evolved, and when she began her undergraduate career, she majored in Spanish with a minor in Latin American studies. After graduation, Carlota had absolutely no intentions of working as an educator; but when she learned that a teacher friend needed substitute teachers at a Far Eastside school, she decided to give k-12 education a chance. During her time as a substitute teacher in Lawrence Township, she began to learn more about the language inequities in the k-12 education landscape. This prompted her to go back to school to earn her teaching credentials. Carlota has now been an educator since 2009.
Over the course of her career, Carlota has encountered a number of issues related to inequitable access to resources for ELL students and educators. The overarching theme of these issues always comes back to prioritization. In general, school systems do not organize resources for ELL programs in ways that actually prioritize the needs of the students. In some cases, teachers will pull ELL students out of classrooms once a day for instruction which does not fulfill the needs of the students. In many instances, schools do not have enough or any bi-lingual educators on staff which creates a major barrier for students who feel that they are not understood by their teacher. In addition, schools will often substitute ELL instruction for electives which leave students feeling left out.
For Carlota, the clear solution is to cultivate and grow more ELL educators by equipping them with the resources they need to serve students. According to the 2020 Census, Indianapolis is becoming more diverse every year. Carlota recently received a teacher innovation grant from The Mind Trust to enhance licensures for general education and EL educators in partnership with Marian University. By creating more opportunities for highly trained bi-lingual school counselors, social workers, and teachers, Carlota Holder is preparing Indiana to be a more welcoming place to live.